Embracing Failure

November 12, 2022

The road to success is paved with failure. You cannot succeed if you don’t fail along the way and are able to learn from those setbacks. The fact is no one succeeds unless they first embrace failure, learn from it, and try again and again.

Looking back over my career, I recall failures big and small that undermined my confidence and stalled my ability to get a job and get promoted more quickly. Some of these failures I blamed on other people, some I attributed to circumstances beyond my control. Ultimately, I failed to accept my responsibility for what happened and what I could do differently next time by learning from the experience.

“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career,” said Michael Jordan. “I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

Choose any successful person—no matter the field—and I suspect they can recount a series of obstacles that they needed to overcome before they reached their goals. Here are a few famous failures.

  • Albert Einstein – Failed to speak until age 4; at age 16, he failed to be admitted into the Swiss Federal Polytechnic school; graduated from college but struggled in classes so much that he considered dropping out; sold insurance door to door for two years before joining the patent office examining applications for various devices. Finally, he went on to develop the fundamental core laws governing physics, won the Nobel Prize and created the beginnings of quantum theory.
  • J.K. Rowling – At 17 she failed to be accepted at Oxford University; at 25 her mother died of Multiple Sclerosis, leaving her extremely distraught and upset; she found work with Amnesty International and then taught English; after the breakup of a difficult marriage with a young child at the age of 38, she moved in with her sister; diagnosed as clinically depressed and suicidal yet she completed the manuscript for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. After getting rejected by the 12 major publishing houses, a small literary house took a chance on the book, which led Rowling to be the first author to become a billionaire through book writing.  
  • Oprah Winfrey – As a young child living with her mother and younger sister, she was sexually molested by an uncle, cousin and a family friend; she ran away at 13, became pregnant at 14 and give birth prematurely to a child who died soon after birth; after a short stint as co-anchor for a news organization in Baltimore, she was fired for being “unfit for television.” At 29 she was hired at AM Chicago, a show that ultimately became the Oprah Winfrey Show, and is now a world-famous multi-billionaire.
  • Abraham Lincoln – At age 23 he lost his job, ran for the state legislature and lost; at age 26 the love of his life died; at 29 he lost his bid to become Speaker in the Illinois House of Representatives; at 39 he failed in his bid to become Commissioner of the General Land Office in D.C.; ten years later he failed to win a seat as a U.S. Senator. Then, at the age of 52, he was elected President of the United States and became one of the most famous failures to ever hold the high office in the United States. 

Failure is not the opposite of success, but an essential step towards it. Embrace your failure as it provides the vital information necessary for learning to succeed. The sooner you accept this, the sooner you reach success.

New Boss = New Opportunity

October 14, 2022

The pandemic led many people to change jobs, get promoted or otherwise been assigned a new boss. Regardless, if this was the case for you, it’s important to quickly get aligned and make the most of the opportunity with this new relationship.  

Perhaps what’s most important with a new boss is to be proactive in understanding their perspective, how they like to communicate and how you can be successful with them. As quickly as possible, strive to establish trust and build rapport. Don’t simply allow for the work to speak for itself, but instead begin building a solid reputation of who you are, what you’ve accomplished and what you’re capable of doing.

Remote work certainly altered how we interact with a new boss, but if you are returning to the office—even in a hybrid fashion—it’s important to re-establish rapport and interact face-to-face as much as possible to ensure you are aligned.

Focusing on the fundamentals is critical in building a productive relationship with your new boss, according to Michael D. Watkins, author of The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter.  

When it comes to working with a new boss, Watkins suggests not doing these things:

  • Don’t stay away – Get on your boss’s calendar regularly and ensure you are in close communication.
  • Don’t surprise your boss – Ensure your boss knows problems well in advance with regular updates so they gain confidence in your ability to deliver results.
  • Don’t approach your boss only with problems – Give some thought to potential solutions so your boss has something to react to rather than resolve on his or her own.
  • Don’t run down your checklist – Assume your boss wants to focus on the most important things you’re trying to do and how he or she can help.
  • Don’t expect your boss to change – It’s your responsibility to adapt to your boss’s style: regardless of how you interacted with your previous boss.

Watkins recommends doing the following with your new boss:

  • Clarify expectations early and often – Don’t make assumptions based on what your prior boss wanted but make it clear what he or she is expecting from you.
  • Take 100 percent responsibility for making the relationship work – Don’t wait for your boss to adjust to you, but instead adjust to him or her.
  • Negotiate timelines for diagnosis and action planning – Ensure that you are aligned on milestones and key delivery dates.
  • Aim for early wins in areas important to the boss – Make your impact quickly so you can earn your boss’s confidence in your ability.
  • Pursue good marks from those who opinions your boss respects – This means shoring up your reputation with other leaders who influence your boss.

These reminders can go a long way towards building a solid relationship with the person most influential with accelerating or decelerating your career opportunities. This is an investment that will pay huge dividends and shouldn’t be minimized.

Further, think of how you can establish a relationship where you’re treated as a thought partner. That means thinking about the challenges your boss is facing and how you can best support him or her.

Every time you get a new boss, think of this as a new opportunity for you to grow in your leadership and in your career. Take a proactive approach and take responsibility for it. You’ll likely enjoy your job more and make greater progress.  

Wisdom of Peter Drucker

June 18, 2022

Nobody embodies my philosophy of leadership more than the late great management consultant Peter Drucker. And his notion of “serving the common good” distinguishes him from the “greed is good” mantra that guided so many companies in the previous century.

According to Drucker’s theory, business leaders need to embrace the “spirit of performance” by displaying high levels of moral and ethical integrity in their actions. These actions should be focused on results, empowering employees, going beyond financial obligations to shareholders, and ultimately serving the common good. He focused on all stakeholders, not just shareholders.

Although this may seem idealistic and perhaps Pollyannish today, Drucker’s theory should serve as a north star where business leaders should aim if they want to be successful in the long run. I deliberately provide this caveat because all too many leaders are focused narrowly on the current share price and the next quarterly earnings call. This is often because they are measured far too strictly by these short-term financial results above and beyond all else.

The man largely credited with coining the term “knowledge worker” back in 1959, Drucker stated that “knowledge has to be improved, challenged, and increased constantly, or it vanishes.” He wasn’t just speaking of leaders, but all knowledge workers.

If we take away only one thing from formal education, we should embrace the idea of lifelong learning. Be it high school, college, or graduate school, it’s vital to continually seek out new information, especially when it challenges our current thinking. Confirmation bias is easily achieved by tuning into our favorite media echo chamber, social media group or a simple Google search. What’s hard is seriously considering alternative perspectives and staying open to different ideas.

My favorite and most often repeated Druckerism is “management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” Leadership is about continually questioning and confirming whether what you’re doing is the right thing to do. Peter Drucker once wrote that the leader of the past knew how to tell, but the leader of the future will know how to ask. The further you rise into leadership, the more important are the questions you raise.

With regard to decision making and influence, Drucker stated the following:

  1. Every decision in the world is made by the person who has the power to make the decision. Make peace with that.
  2. If we need to influence someone in order to make a positive difference, that person is our customer and we are the salesperson.
  3. Our customer does not need to buy; we need to sell.
  4. When we are trying to sell, our personal definition of what value is far less important than our customer’s definition of value.
  5. We should focus on the areas where we can actually make a positive difference. Sell what we can sell and change what we can change. Let go of what we cannot sell or change.

In my work as an executive coach, these five ideas are especially relevant for many of my clients to embrace if they want to increase their effectiveness as a leader.

The idea of “serving the common good” may have been disregarded by many organizations, but it is now embraced by companies who don’t see shareholder value at the expense of all the other stakeholders, including employees, suppliers, and customers. Increasing shareholder value can be coupled with increasing stakeholder value.

Even the famous free market economist Milton Freidman, who wrote the New York Times Magazine article “The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits” that shaped business practice for the past 50 years, would question many of the disreputable behavior of companies today. This is because Freidman also wrote about the “respect for ethical custom,” which doesn’t get much attention. By this he meant that if theft against the shareholder is wrong, then so is theft for the shareholder. Such theft could be in the form of companies abusing their power or depleting collectively owned resources (air quality, water quality, communities, etc.) without compensating owners.

Clearly companies who embrace serving the common good as a corporate value are much more likely to attract Millennials and Gen Zers, who are looking for their careers to be more than simply creating wealth for shareholders. The same is true for customers who, when faced with a choice, will choose brands that exemplify who they are and what they value.

Peter Drucker’s wisdom is embraced by leaders who will be successful going forward. And that’s good for their companies, employees, customers, communities, and the environment.

Threshold of an Opportunity

June 3, 2022

The fractured discourse in society over race, abortion, guns, politics, public health, and many other things threatens the fabric of what makes this country so great. We used to respectfully disagree and continue to be united as citizens. Now we are dangerously polarized. Where once we could compromise, now there is only me or you, win or lose.

E Pluribus Unum translates as “out of many, one.” This is emblazed across the scroll clenched in the eagle’s beak on the Great Seal of the United States and originates from the concept that out of the union of the original Thirteen Colonies emerged a new single nation. Today there are Red states and Blue states.

We are in a liminal space: between what is and what is to come. The word liminal translates from the Latin word “limi,” which means threshold. Our society may be leaving one way of life behind and transitioning to something altogether different.

Businesses are facing a liminal space too. How do they entice employees to return to the workplace? The great resignation has morphed into workers demanding more control over when and where they do the work. Leaders are challenged to find a way.

“A leader’s primary role is to create the future,” says Mark Miller, author of Smart Leadership: Four Simple Choices to Scale Your Impact. “Our vision for the future should never be an extension of the present or a return to the past. Normal is the realm of a manager who sees his or her role as controlling what is. The leader, by contrast, doesn’t want to control—she seeks to release the potential of her people and her organization. There is nothing normal about a preferred future. Without the liminal space, escaping normalcy is unlikely, and so is a better tomorrow.”

It is important for leaders to see this liminal space as an opportunity. Reflect on the changing times and the abundance of possibilities for those who embrace rather than resist it. Create a vision for the future. Release the potential of your people and of the organization.

The COVID-19 pandemic led to a recognition that a change in the workplace is necessary. Consider the rise of union organization, demand for accountability on climate change, #metoo movement, Black Lives Matter, and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion programs.

Many corporations may have to: shift from overly rewarding CEOs and shareholders at the expense of employees and customers; challenge the assumption that the reason for all white males on the leadership team and boardrooms is because there aren’t qualified woman and people of color; provide a ROWE (Results Only Work Ethic) environment where only the work results are measured and not the time in an office cubicle.

Look at this liminal space not simply as a time to address problems but to embrace the opportunities.

“In every area of effectiveness within an organization, one feeds the opportunities and starves the problems,” wrote Peter Drucker, author of The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done. “Nowhere is this more important than in respect to people. The effective executive looks upon people including himself as an opportunity. He knows that only strength produces results. Weakness only produces headaches—and the absence of weakness produces nothing.”

At this threshold between what was and what will be, leaders must courageously embrace what is possible and move forward. This liminal space is the launching pad for transforming the old ways of working to meet the new challenges of today. Our future depends on it.

Effective Communication Takes Two

April 26, 2022

In my work as an executive coach, one of the most common goals my clients choose to work on is to become a better communicator. This is usually not about public speaking, presentations or even writing better emails. It’s about learning to actively listen, interacting back-and-forth and understanding it’s not about what you say, but what others hear.

Ironically, the plethora of tools created to help us communicate has not increased effective communication. In fact, I would argue it has gotten much worse. Look no further than the negative impacts of social media.

Effective communication requires back and forth exchange, otherwise it’s just talking at people. Sending and receiving messages requires active participation on both sides to enable accurate understanding. This is especially important in the workplace to ensure the results management wants is what employees can deliver.

“We have been working at communications downward from management to the employees, from the superior to the subordinate,” writes management consultant and author Peter Drucker in his book The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done. “But communications are practically impossible if they are based on the downward relationship. The harder the superior tries to say something to his subordinate, the more likely is it that the subordinate will mis-hear. He will hear what he expects to hear rather than what is being said.”

This back and forth is all too often missing and leads to managers upset when they repeatedly tell their direct reports what they want, yet the employee fails to deliver. Perhaps it’s less about telling and more about asking.

In a previous post, I wrote about the importance of doing the right things rather than simply doing things right. When those on the front lines (closest to the problem or opportunity) are consulted on what’s the right thing to do, leaders are likely to make better decisions. This involves two-way communication that balances listening with speaking.   

Drucker suggests effective executives should ask their knowledge workers the following:

  • What should we at the head of this organization know about your work?
  • What do you want to tell me regarding this organization?
  • Where do you see opportunities we do not exploit?
  • Where do you see dangers to which we are still blind?
  • What do you want to know from me about the organization?

“In every area of effectiveness within an organization, one feeds the opportunities and starves the problems,” writes Drucker. “Nowhere is this more important than in respect to people. The effective executive looks upon people including himself as an opportunity.”

Apple’s Steve Jobs once said “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do. We hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” This advice should be followed by all executives as an organization can only be as effective as its people.

George Bernard Shaw once said: “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” Ensure that your communication includes active listening, back-and-forth interaction, and that what you say is what they hear. Then it won’t be an illusion.

Role Clarity in Leadership

April 14, 2022

The leader of an organization has many responsibilities, but perhaps the most important is ensuring that the right people are in the right roles to carry out the needs of the organization so it can thrive. This role clarity cannot be overemphasized.

“Managers do things right. Leaders do the right things.” This quote is attributed to the great organizational consultant and author Warren G. Bennis. It is ultimately about leadership doing the right things, but also making a distinction between managing a process and leading people.

Managers are those who carry out right things. If they are asked to do the wrong things, then it really doesn’t matter if they do them right or not. The best organizations recognize that when a manager pushes back on doing what is perceived as the wrong things, it’s not necessarily a sign of insubordination. It can signal misunderstanding, insufficient communication or a lack of confidence in a leader.  

Leaders need not only do the right things, but they also need to ensure that their people are clear in their understanding and responsibility to execute these things in the right way. This means fully knowing why these are the right things. Unless the leader is in a command-and-control situation like the military, it is necessary to bring people along to ensure they fully believe you are doing the right things.

Getting this clarity regarding the role every person plays is vital, and this is especially important when leading teams.

“If you are the leader, you can decide the role you want to play and the role you want your team to play,” says Mark Miller, author of Smart Leadership: Four Simple Choices to Scale Your Impact. “But you need to decide.”

Miller distinguishes between what he suggests are a leader’s role versus a leadership team’s role.

Leader’s Role                                      Leadership Team’s Role
Provide vision                                     Communicate vision
Establish values                                  Enforce the core values
Set goals                                              Manage the day-to-day activities
Endorse core strategies                      Identify and solve problems
Provide resources                               Lift and maintain engagement
Provide encouragement                     Train and equip team members
Invest in leaders                                  Develop next generation leaders
Establish boundaries                          Provide accountability
Clarify roles                                         Improve performance

As the leader, it is your responsibility to ensure there is clarity in the roles. If not, this impacts performance, and will undermine every leadership initiative.

“Don’t miss the big idea here—regardless of who does what, be clear and explicit,” says Miller. “The absence of role clarity is not a team failure—it is a leadership failure.”

Get clarity regarding your role and the role of your people in order to ensure your organization thrives.

Zelenskyy’s Virtual Executive Presence

March 14, 2022

Throughout the past two years many of us have been challenged to demonstrate effective executive presence while working remotely. But how do you convey leadership prowess when you’re not physically in the same room?

Perhaps Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has most recently provided a great example of how to do this effectively—even while his life is being threatened and his country devastated by the Russian invasion.

First and foremost, Zelenskyy has led with values and demonstrates courage, vision and inspiration to Ukrainians and people around the world. Becoming famous by first acting as a fictional president in “Servant of the People,” perhaps the war has verified his ability to truly embody the notion of a servant to others.

Clearly, before becoming president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy understood how to communicate effectively as he rose from comedian to commander by capturing more than 70% of the vote. This effective wartime president has been able to gather worldwide sympathy as well as support for him and the Ukrainian people.

Whether President Putin may have simply underestimated the Ukrainian people’s resolve or President Zelenskyy has effectively held back a quick and decisive victory is still unclear. Regardless, the Ukrainian president is certainly effective in demonstrating his leadership.

Here are some examples how President Zelenskyy demonstrates executive presence:

  • Leads with values – speaks of freedom and independence for the Ukrainian people.
  • Speaks in terms of “we, the people of Ukraine” rather than “I alone can fix it” language.
  • Knows his medium: capitalizes on social media to effectively communicate his message.
  • Takes his own video selfies using not only words, but visuals of him wearing fatigues, sitting with his troops, and using backgrounds effectively.
  • Targets message to his audience: speaks Russian to Russian citizens, speaks English as necessary, and channels Winston Churchill in House of Commons speech: “we will fight in the fields, in the forests, in the streets . . .”
  • Demonstrates courage: When offered a safe way out, says “The fight is here. I need ammunition, not a ride.”

When it comes to conveying leadership presence in less precarious and dangerous positions, perhaps there are some lessons to learn from Zelenskyy. Running an organization or any team of people requires showing up in a way that demonstrates you as a leader. This is about how you are perceived by others.

As I described in a previous blog post titled Building Trust & Connection via Zoom, it’s important to show you value others, carefully communicate, confidently collaborate and trust totally. Beyond the importance of digital body language, demonstrating executive presence in a virtual environment means:

  • Actively listen and take careful note of participants’ body language, focused attention, and whether they are engaged in the way you want.
  • Ensure that you remain fully engaged and are not distracted by multi-tasking.
  • Facilitate discussions to make everyone feel included and valued. Build on ideas, summarize information, and appoint actions to be taken.
  • Watch your tone of voice to ensure it is appropriate given the subject matter and the people involved, especially as this carries more weight without being in the same room.
  • Dress appropriately and groom yourself as if you were in the office. This falls under the category of “look the part of a leader.”
  • Use positive language and recognize that you may have to work harder to convey warmth due to the digital distance.

When you do these things effectively, you will show up in a way that others perceive as that of a leader. Since you can’t demonstrate how you physically carry yourself when you walk into a conference room, do all you can to accentuate the medium you are confined to. This is about how you look, how you speak, how you listen, how you participate.

Don’t disregard the importance of optimizing the medium you find yourself to bring out your best self. You’ll not only act like a leader but look the part as well.

Say Yes to Office Politics

February 14, 2022

Early in my career I worked for a rapidly growing mid-size company and experienced negative aspects of office politics firsthand. I saw men and women who regularly interrupted others, elbowed their way into interactions with senior leaders, pushed themselves into important discussions, and generally got promoted more quickly than the rest of us.

I convinced myself that I’d rather let my work speak for itself and while these people were playing office politics to get promoted more quickly, I’m better than that. I assumed there could be no integrity in office politics and therefore I wanted nothing to do with it.

Eventually I came to understand that being politically savvy is essential to rising into leadership positions and integrity is what separates those who are truly politically skilled. While those who are disingenuous may fool some people in the workplace, the art of being politically or organizationally savvy requires the authentic use of political skills.   

According to the Center for Creative Leadership, politically skilled leaders are masters at:

  • Social astuteness
  • Interpersonal influence
  • Networking ability
  • Thinking before speaking
  • Managing up
  • Apparent sincerity

Being politically savvy means you can maintain a positive image while driving your individual, team, and organization’s performance.

In a white paper titled Using Political Skill to Maximize and Leverage Work Relationships, the Center for Creative Leadership identified four distinct practices leaders can use to demonstrate political skill:

  • Social Awareness – This has to do with an ability to observe others well enough to understand their behaviors and motives.
  • Interpersonal Influence – The ability to influence and engage with others is paramount to successful leadership.  
  • Networking – Building one’s own team is merely a beginning as reaching across the organization is required to strengthen one’s political skillset.
  • Sincerity – This where integrity comes in and the ability to be open, honest, and genuine with others is the difference in those who are sincere and those who are not.

Navigating office politics is about being authentic and understanding that there will be ambiguity in work relationships. Both are required to build alliances, which is what provides you with political skills you need to succeed.

It’s vital to manage up well. This is not only about your boss but also other senior leaders who are gatekeepers for your career growth. These are the people who need to see you demonstrating all your political savvy skills.

Rejecting office politics means you won’t rise into senior leadership. Make peace with office politics and recognize that although it may in fact be a game, it’s a game you need to learn to play it well.

Don’t reject office politics because some people don’t play fair. While any game can include unfair players, engaging in office politics and playing with integrity, enables you to grow your leadership and advance your career. Say yes to office politics.

Strong (Empathetic) Leadership

January 27, 2022

Empathy is often difficult to discern by simply reading a resume, but most of us know it when it’s present and perhaps more so when it’s missing. When it comes to leadership, empathy is an essential quality.

Tensions over Ukraine have been escalating and a recent poll by Yahoo News/YouGov indicates that 62% of Americans who identify as Republicans say they believe Russian President Putin is a “stronger leader” than President Biden. The numbers rise to 71% of those who identify Fox News as their primary news source.

While this may be explained primarily due to the extreme partisan nature and political divide in the United States, it may also have something to do with our collective notion of how we define strong leadership.

How do you define a strong leader?

In business, according to job site Indeed, strong leaders share these characteristics:

  • Self-awareness
  • Vision
  • Perspective
  • Support
  • Coaching
  • Results
  • Passion
  • Accountability

In government, according to govloop, strong leadership includes these qualities:

  • Learning agility
  • Integrity
  • Fearlessness
  • Technology Savvy
  • Flexible
  • Great Motivator
  • Change Embracer
  • Visionary
  • Strong Communicator
  • Collaborator
  • Accessible

When it comes to governing leadership, I came across article by Mark Funkhouser, the former publisher of Governing magazine. He contends communication and courage are the most important leadership qualities for any government leader.

“I’m not talking simply about making speeches or giving direction, but about listening and speaking in ways that make others feel heard, understood and valued,” writes Funkhouser. “It starts with learning.” 

And when it comes to courage: “Leaders take on the problems of others and are willing to risk ridicule, derision and the loss of position or reputation to overcome those problems. It is this test of moral courage that separates real leaders from those who merely hold positions of authority. People have to know that you care about them. They have to have hope that if they stick together and stick with you, their circumstances will get better. And they have to believe in the mission—not only that you are competent, but also that you have a plan and the plan is going to work.”

Funkhouser’s perspective and many in the lists of characteristics and qualities mentioned above are elements of empathy, or the ability to connect with others by being aware of, sensitive to and understanding of what they are feeling or experiencing.

According to Helen Riess, author of The Empathy Effect, leadership is all about emotions.

“We often cite intelligence, instincts, and expertise when describing someone we consider to be a great leader, but great leaders are exquisitely attuned to others’ emotions and are experts at regulating their own,” writes Riess. “The truly great leaders among us have a combination of keen emotional attunement made possible through shared neural circuitry and quick, decisive, and creative minds that find opportunities and figure out how to execute a plan—which may explain why great leaders are hard to find.”

Perhaps it’s easier to be viewed as a “strong leader” in countries governed by those who don’t have to worry about a free and fair election every four years and a limit of two presidential terms. American leaders have limitations on what they can do and maybe that’s what contributes to making the United States such a great country.  

Until we decide that we’d rather have an authoritarian leader like President Putin, perhaps we should reconsider how we define strong leadership with regards to our president.

Milestone: 300 Blog Posts

December 26, 2021

During the past 12 years, I’ve written and posted articles about leadership, workplace communication, managing employees, executive coaching, organization development and other workplace topics. This blog post marks my 300th since I began writing them in 2009.

From my first post Operational Inefficiencies are Hurting Your Business regarding a trip to Denver that highlighted deficiencies with an airline and car rental company to my most recent Civility in the Workplace, these blog posts are primarily related to what I’m experiencing in my personal and professional life as well as what I’m reading or thinking about. I don’t follow an editorial calendar but instead write about whatever is present in my life at the time.

Though I receive no compensation, there are many benefits for this bi-weekly practice. These include providing potential clients the opportunity to better understand who I am and my expertise. Perhaps more importantly, this encourages my continual learning. (Full disclosure: About half the books I read and reference in these posts are sent free from publishers and publicists hoping I will write something positive.) Every year I read about 25-30 books related to these topics and, by writing about them, feel I am better able to retain the information and pass along to others what I’ve learned.

I wrote about leadership most often as this was tagged 178 times followed by employee engagement (79), organization development (79), workplace communication (75), and lower down was emotional intelligence (39), trust (38), and collaboration (34). The post where I received the most views and comments was Authoritarian vs. Authoritative Leadership written in the summer of 2019. It seemed to strike a chord during and after the Trump presidency.

Over these past 12 years, I see that I frequently discussed the topic of intentionality as well as listening when it comes to effective communication. This was first explored in Turn Signals and Talk Signals where I compared not using turn signals to not being clear in our communication, and in Leader as Listener among others.

Last year, I was able to leverage the work I do on this blog by expanding upon a particular topic into a full book. I wrote Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace in December 2020 and I’m thrilled to see it has found a larger audience.

This month I self-published a collection of my short fiction, something I’ve worked on for more than 20 years. I Remember Clifford and Other Stories is about exploring identity, the loss of a father, finding one’s voice, and feeling and processing emotions, especially around grief.

Here’s an example of something I’ve learned in just putting this post together. It turns out 300 is the sum of a pair of twin primes (149 + 151) as well as the sum of ten consecutive primes (13 + 17 + 19 + 23 + 29 + 31 + 37 + 41 + 43 + 47). Perhaps only my daughter and a few others might find this of interest. Regardless, writing 300 posts feels like a big milestone for me.

I am extremely grateful to my clients and the many authors and thought leaders who continually inspire me. To my regular readers, I truly appreciate your continued interest, and I welcome your comments and feedback. Happy New Year!

Retaining Your Best Employees

October 26, 2021

The best organizations are those that hire and retain the best and brightest employees. Keeping these people engaged and satisfied is essential. If you’re not worried about employee retention, then you must work at a rare company these days. Consider the following:

  • Currently, there are about 8.6 million people unemployed in the U.S. and nearly 10 million job openings.
  • A record 4.3 million people left their jobs in August and, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this job quitting trend is showing up in every sector they track.
  • A survey by BamBooHR found that nearly one-third of employees left their job in the first six months of employment: top reasons include poor onboarding, lack of clarity in job duties and expectations, and a less than stellar boss.
  • Recent research by Built In found that the cost of replacing a highly-trained employee or executive can exceed double their annual salary.
  • According to Wills Towers Watson, almost three-quarters of employees who fall in the “high-retention-risk” category are seeking to leave because they see no opportunities in their current organization’s career ladder.

If you’re a leader in your organization, especially in HR, you should find all of this very alarming. Blaming it on millennials who feel no company loyalty is only partially accurate.

Despite what may seem like an insurmountable challenge, there are many things that are entirely within your control. These things will not only help you retain your top talent and save time and money but will likely increase overall employee engagement and productivity.

  • Improve your hiring process to ensure you bring in the right people for the right positions and develop a strong on-boarding process.
  • Ensure that managers have annual or semi-annual conversations with each direct report regarding career growth and opportunities.
  • Offer professional training and development opportunities such as executive coaching to build greater leadership capacity.
  • Provide career advancement pathways beyond managing groups or teams for valuable individual contributors.
  • Offer ample opportunities to take on leadership positions throughout the organization.
  • Ensure those with direct reports are regularly measured on how well they manage and grow their people.  
  • Stop inadvertently encouraging employees to seek out and then provide counteroffers from other companies before offering to pay them what they should be earning.
  • Encourage an environment that expresses gratitude for work well done. This is not limited to bonuses and other material rewards, but specific and heartfelt appreciation delivered publicly (when possible) can be tremendously important in job satisfaction.  

“Most organizations simply assign too much importance to financial compensation and too little to the other side of the equation,” writes Patrick Lencioni in his book The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business. “They often do this because they believe that people who leave their organizations are doing so because they want more money.

“This is an understandable mistake because that is what many employees say during exit interviews when they’ve already made up their mind to leave,” continues Lencioni. “However, almost no employees willingly leave an organization where they are getting the levels of gratitude and appreciation that they deserve just to make a little more money, unless, of course, they are so grossly underpaid that they can’t justify staying on the job for the sake of their livelihood.”

As I’ve written previously, simply expressing appreciation to your people can go a long way towards making employees feel valued. It doesn’t overcome an inadequate salary, but it certainly factors in when deciding whether to change jobs.

Provide a warm and welcome on-boarding process, clearly define the role, responsibilities, and expectations, ensure managers are effective at directing and supporting their direct reports, provide career advancement opportunities, and show appreciation regularly. If you’re doing all of this and salaries are commensurate with the positions, you will likely retain your best employees.  

Delivering Quality Feedback

October 14, 2021

To help direct reports improve and grow as leaders, it’s essential to provide quality feedback to best illustrate what they do well and what they do not do so well. When this feedback is behaviorally specific and delivered effectively, direct reports are more likely to receive the message well and take meaningful action.

Most importantly, you should begin with humility. Your recipient will be much more receptive when you connect as human beings first as it demonstrates that you acknowledge and accept that we are all perfectly imperfect.

The Center for Creative Leadership recommends the “situation-behavior-impact” methodology to help leaders be more precise and show up less arrogant when giving feedback. This method focuses on: 1) the situation, 2) the behavior (i.e., what the person did, either good or bad), and 3) the impact. Sticking to this methodology helps you avoid making judgments regarding the person’s intelligence, common sense or other personal attributes. And keeping it based on the events you observe, means you are less likely to sound judgmental or arrogant.

The CCL further recommends follow up inquiry to understand the person’s intent. Rather than assume, ask the person if what you witnessed was their intention. In this way they can potentially see how there may be a disconnect between what they intended and what transpired. This is a way to open the conversation and that’s where learning and potentially corrective action can occur.

Coaching Conversation

This is more of a coaching conversation, and it can help clarify the delta between intent and impact, which can result in a change in behavior. This type of conversation can also serve to increase trust and understanding. Ultimately, by inquiring in this way to understand the intention or motivation behind the action, you will both find it less disciplinary and more instructive.

Providing feedback is often a delicate area, but it need not be. It’s simply a matter of explaining what you observe and the resulting impact. When this impact is detrimental, it’s important to determine if that was the intention. And when the intent is different than the result, you can be helpful in corrective action and ensure there is learning so it doesn’t happen again.

Boss as Thought Partner

September 28, 2021

The relationship between boss and direct report is often fraught with problems stemming from being either too involved or not involved enough. Too much of a micromanager or an absentee manager. In many cases, the ideal between these two extremes is where you as a boss can be viewed as a thought partner.  

Leaders are expected to do many things, and one of the most important is staying in close relationship with direct reports. This means creating and communicating a vision, then coaching direct reports and their teams to accomplish necessary goals and objectives. It means motivating them to bring their best to the job, providing collaborative counsel, and clearing the path for optimal productivity.

Kim Scott, author of Radical Candor: Be a kick-ass boss without losing your humanity, says that the best bosses should care personally while challenging directly, which is at the heart of what she calls radical candor. This is about providing guidance and feedback that is both kind and clear as well as specific and sincere.

A thought partner boss is one who models radical candor so that direct reports feel seen and valued and able to collaborate toward shared goals. On the other hand, the boss who shows up as either micromanager or absentee can undermine all of this.

Micromanager

The micromanager boss can be overly focused on what to do and how to do it. While a boss needs to provide a vision, being overly prescriptive on what to do can undermine a direct report’s own contribution. And telling one how to do something can remove their agency, autonomy, and any opportunity for learning.

This micromanager boss is very much hands-on and one who is typically talking too much, listening too little, telling too much, and often hoarding information. If this sounds like you, it may mean you see yourself as above those reporting to you and may signify that you’re overly reliant on managing down.

Absentee

An absentee boss is one who is difficult to track down and often skips 1:1 meetings. This can be especially detrimental as direct reports are missing essential information and guidance to do their jobs. Making oneself unavailable means productivity can slow and/or easily go off-track.  

This type of boss is too hands-off and not talking or listening, uninterested in details, unaware of problems, and can often cause collateral damage. If this sounds familiar, you may think you are simply getting out of the way but are actually creating confusion. And it may signify that you are overly managing upwards.

Thought Partner

The ideal boss is one who is viewed as more as a thought partner to their direct reports, and this is optimal because you provide guidance and direction while engaging in a collaborative relationship.

A thought partner boss is one who is hands-on, talking little and listening a lot. This boss asks relevant questions, responds to problems, offers solutions, removes obstacles, shares knowledge, and works collaboratively to accomplish goals. A thought partner boss is one who works alongside his or her direct reports.

To be a thought partner boss, here are some behaviors you may consider when you interact with your direct reports:

  • Provide each direct report with the support and direction they individually need. They are managed best when they are managed the way they want to be managed.
  • Rather than solve their problems, get curious to understand what they’ve considered so far and offer what you can to help solve these problems together.
  • Demonstrate vulnerability by inviting them to assist you with a challenge you are facing. Give them this opportunity to see things from your perspective.  
  • Use 1:1 meetings to ask important questions. Fred Kofman, author of Conscious Business, suggests: “What could I do or stop doing that would make it easier for you to work with me?”
  • Fight the urge to reject new ideas direct reports may have and instead try to nurture these ideas. Rather than immediately judge the viability of them, seek to gain further clarity and understanding.  

Obviously having a thought partner relationship with your direct reports is not only on you as their boss. It requires both individuals showing up in a way that honors the other person and the perspective they bring. It requires trust and respect. And it requires recognizing that only through true collaboration can the two of you work best together.



Three A’s of Successful Behavioral Change

September 14, 2021

An important part of what I do as an executive coach is help leaders discover what they should keep doing, what they should stop doing and what they should start doing to raise their leadership capacity. And behaviors can be difficult to change without awareness, acceptance, and sustained action.   

When making the transition from manager to leader, there is usually a need to better understand what needs to shift. That’s why my coaching typically begins with a 360 Feedback process to provide necessary insight to both me and my client. Very often the very behaviors that made you successful in managing may need to be tweaked when it comes to leading.

While working as a manager, among other things, you need to manage tasks and direct the work of people doing these tasks. You create and achieve short term goals, manage risk, and generally work within the organizational structure you find yourself in.

To become a leader, you need to make decisions despite ambiguity, engage in areas outside your area of subject matter expertise, build and sustain collaborative relationships with your peers, create and effectively communicate a long-range strategic vision that can move the organization forward. And you don’t manage other people so much as coach them.

Though some people may be able to shift their behaviors seamlessly, many emerging leaders need to raise their awareness of them, accept that they need to be tweaked, and make sustained action to make new behaviors consistent.

Awareness

Behavioral change requires first becoming aware of what needs to shift. This can come about only through effective feedback through candid conversations, effective evaluations or a 360 Feedback report. If these aren’t available to you, ask a trusted colleague for honest feedback. Once you have this awareness, you have taken an important step forward.  

Acceptance

To successfully change requires an acceptance of this awareness. All too often we dismiss what we discover and say: “well, that’s just who I am and it hasn’t held me back, so I guess I don’t need to change.” This is a mistake as executive coach Marshall Goldsmith so eloquently put it in the very title of his book What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. Small “transactional flaws” performed by you against another can lead to negative impressions that hold you back. While these may not have been a problem up to now, it’s critical that you tweak them to grow into an effective leader.

(Sustained) Action

Finally, it’s all about what you choose to do with this information. Tweaking behaviors may not seem so difficult, but just look at the challenges people face with behaviors such as quitting smoking, losing weight, eating right, or sleeping enough and you can see that it takes a lot of effort and willpower. Taking meaningful action is vital and it requires constant attention.  

“Study after study (mine included) has shown that achieving transformative behavior change is more like treating a chronic disease than curing a rash,” writes Katy Milkman in her book How to Change: The science of getting from where you are to where you want to be. “You can’t just slap a little ointment on it and expect it to clear up forever.” She describes obstacles including temptation, forgetfulness, under-confidence, and laziness like symptoms of chronic disease. “They won’t just go away once you’ve started ‘treating’ them. They’re human nature and require constant vigilance.”  

To successfully tweak behaviors and grow your leadership capacity means you keep them top of mind in all your interactions. Though an executive coaching engagement may help you become aware, learn to accept and take action on behavioral change, it is up to you to sustain the change. Remain vigilant by shifting your mindset from one and done to more of a lifestyle approach.

Renovating Corporate Culture

May 14, 2021

The influence of corporate culture on an organization’s ability to effectively execute on strategic objectives is well recognized. Yet all too often when culture is misaligned with strategy, leaders are unable to alter their organization’s culture and then fail to reach their objectives.

One of the most important thinkers on management theory and practice, management consultant and author Peter Drucker expressed the view that company culture constrains strategy and can even defeat it. This has often been summarized as “culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

Culture plays a huge role in the success of a business as it governs people’s organizational behavior and ultimately the execution of strategy. And culture increasingly plays a vital role in attracting and retaining talent. According to a recent Glassdoor study, 77 percent of people would evaluate a company’s culture before applying for an open position. Fifty-six percent stated an organization’s culture was more important than compensation.

When your company’s culture is unable to fully support your strategy, it’s time to renovate your culture.

“Successful companies recognized that certain elements of their organization, just as in any home renovation, are the core—the foundation of what made them great to begin with,” writes Kevin Oakes, CEO of i4cp and author of Culture Renovation. “Similar to a house where you want to improve the value, companies recognize that to better compete in the future, to continuously improve shareholder return, and to attract top talent, they need to renovate.”

However, Oakes found only 15 percent of companies that embark on culture change were able to succeed. After extensive research and executive interviews, his company defined 18 steps as a blueprint in order to initiate and maintain culture change. Referencing stories from well-known companies such as Microsoft, T-Mobile, Ford and Starbucks, Oakes outlines these steps in three phases: plan, build and maintain.

In the planning phase are things like figuring out what to keep, defining desired behaviors, and determining how progress will be measured, monitored and reported. The building phase includes clearly communicating that change is coming, ferreting out skeptics and nonbelievers early, and establishing a co-creation mindset. In the maintaining phase Oakes prescribes making onboarding about relationships rather than red tape, changing performance management practices and leveraging employee affinity groups.

And similar to any change initiative, success is directly tied to the level of active and engaged executive sponsorship.

Renovating is an apt word for this work with regard to corporate culture. It is about preserving the unique elements while updating or adopting “next practices” to better meet current conditions. Similar to renovating a house, renovating an organization’s culture means determining what is essential and building upon that.

“For a renovator, a house is not an artifact locked in time, but a distinct being with a character and history that should be upheld even as the owner’s needs are taken into account,” writes Erica Bauermeister, author of House Lessons: Renovating a Life. Unlike remodeling, Bauermeister says renovating requires a certain respect for what is there and what should remain in order to successfully transform.

So too with renovating corporate culture. Listen and learn what is to be kept. Gather a team of effective influencers. Clearly communicate early and often. Create a compelling vision. Provide training on desired behaviors. Promote those who best represent the new culture.

“Culture is critical, and changing it is difficult,” writes Oakes. “Whether renovating a house or overhauling the culture of a century-old organization, it never goes as planned. The process demands optimism, patience, and perseverance.”

Renovate your culture to align with your strategy and your company will become unshakeable.

Saying “No” for Better Time Management

April 9, 2021

It’s not enough to be busy, so are the ants. The question is, what are we busy about? – Henry David Thoreau

In spite of your career success, you may find you are a slave to back-to-back meetings, an overflowing email inbox and never enough time for the strategic work you should be doing.

Until someone figures out how to squeeze more hours into a workday without impacting one’s personal life, you will never get it all done. But that’s just it. No one will. And time management may be about saying “no” as much as anything else.

“Highly successful people don’t prioritize tasks on a to-do list, or follow some complex five-step system, or refer to logic tree diagrams to make decisions,” says Kevin Kruse, author of 15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management. “They don’t think about time much at all. Instead, they think about values, priorities and consistent habits.”

Changing your mindset so that every minute of every workday is spent in alignment with your values, priorities and good habits will enable you to have much greater control over your time. And stop doing things that eat up valuable minutes in your day.

Travis Bradberry, author and co-founder of TalentSmart, offers up Ten Bad Habits You Must Eliminate from you Daily Routine in order to better manage your time. These are:

  1. Using your phone, tablet or computer in bed
  2. Impulsively surfing the net
  3. Checking your phone during a conversation
  4. Using multiple notifications
  5. Saying “yes” when you should say “no”
  6. Thinking about toxic people
  7. Multitasking during meetings
  8. Gossiping
  9. Waiting to act until you know you’ll succeed
  10. Comparing Yourself to Other People

If you have any of these bad habits, then this is a perfect place to begin. In fact, not having enough time starts with gaining an honest appraisal of where your time is currently being spent. More than likely, there are things you can stop doing.

Take saying “yes” when you should be saying “no.” This is all too common for many leaders who want to make themselves accessible and not be a bottleneck. However, when you say “yes” to one thing, you are also saying “no” to something else. Are you making the right decision agreeing to attend a meeting when a more important task requires your attention?

Meetings are one of the biggest time sucks in a workday. Many meetings are longer than they need to be, have the wrong people (or too many) in attendance, and some are not conducted in the most effective manner. Do what can to avoid meetings that aren’t absolutely necessary.

Next time you’re invited to a meeting, at a minimum, ask yourself these important questions before agreeing to attend:

  • Why is this meeting being held? – Ensure you have a clear agenda beforehand to determine if your contribution is necessary to what is being discussed in the meeting.
  • Can I delegate someone to attend on my behalf? If yes, then be sure the person representing you is clear of your thoughts on the topic being discussed. Request that you be included on minutes taken regarding decisions/actions made at the meeting.
  • May I attend for only the part of the agenda I’m needed? If you need to attend, ensure that you are not spending unnecessary time when your participation is not needed.

Since there are only 1440 minutes in a day, how you spend each of them is very important. Get your priorities straight: be sure you’re working to live rather than living to work. Remove bad habits from your daily routine and say “no” whenever possible to guard precious time.

Carving Out Time for Strategic Thinking

March 25, 2021

In today’s workplace, everyone should learn to think strategically—no matter their position. But effectively moving from manager to leader is where I think strategic thinking matters most.

As you move from being primarily responsible for the completion of a set of tasks or objectives to the alignment of people and processes, it is vital to think beyond your scope of direct influence to the larger organization. And this requires moving from convergent thinking to divergent thinking.

Convergent thinking is what you probably do most of the time and makes you a good problem solver. It is analytical and logical. This concrete thinking allows you to follow the data to make rational decisions. It is primarily focused on the near term and vital in every workplace.

Divergent thinking, on the other hand, is about looking at problems or opportunities from a variety of angles. It requires thinking abstractly to come up with ideas beyond what is directly obvious to everyone else. Typically, it is longer term. It means following tangents that convergent thinkers may think are off-topic and even a waste of time. But allowing for this enables the divergent thinker to come up with creative solutions.

This divergent thinking is important when choosing to think strategically because it is focused beyond the tactical problems of today and more on the potential problems and opportunities of tomorrow.

In a Harvard Business Review article some years back, Nina A. Bowman proposed 4 Ways to Improve Your Strategic Thinking Skills. These include:

  1. Know: Observe and Seek Trends – Look for themes that you see both in your organization as well as the overall market. Discuss your findings with your peers to better understand what you see.
  2. Think: Ask the Tough Questions – Ask yourself “How do I broaden what I consider?” This is where the divergent thinking becomes especially helpful as you need to think beyond the usual channels and pathways.
  3. Speak: Sound Strategic – Prepare your audience by providing a heads up that you want to have a higher-level conversation beyond the usual tactics. And rather than build up to your main point, provide this upfront and then back it up with your facts and ideas.
  4. Act: Make Time for Thinking and Embrace Conflict – Use the Eisenhower Box to evaluate what is urgent and important. Learn to guard your schedule by removing meetings, saying no to additional requests on your time, and blocking out protected time on your calendar for strategic thinking. You may encounter conflict from others in this, but they may ultimately respect you more by defending your precious time.

Learn to value the time you’re gazing out the window as you think through hard problems. Though you may be embarrassed should someone catch you doing this as opposed to staring at your computer, you should change your mindset and embrace it. This is where the real substance of strategic thinking comes from.

Strategic thinking cannot be done entirely in a vacuum, of course. But don’t let this keep you from first generating your own ideas to see where it takes you. Give yourself the time and space necessary to allow for divergent thinking and novel solutions will present themselves. Then, once you’ve got your thoughts together, bounce them off others to vet them as well as add on to them.  

Carving out time for strategic thinking will benefit you and your organization. Just be patient as your results will not be nearly as tangible in the short term. In fact, they may never come to fruition. That doesn’t mean the time spent on them wasn’t important. In fact, it may have been more important to simply rule them out and move on to other potential ideas. And that’s what great leaders are able to do.

Making the Most of Feedback

March 9, 2021

[This is an excerpt from my book Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace, which is currently available at Amazon and wherever you buy books.]

Leading others in the workplace requires a combination of successfully receiving and giving feedback. At a very basic level, receiving feedback is about learning what you are perceived as doing well and should continue doing; understanding what you should not do and stop doing; and learning what you don’t currently do, but should begin doing.

Similarly, to give feedback effectively, you need to state what the other person is doing well and encourage them to continue; inform them of what they should not be doing and redirect as necessary; and communicate what they need to begin doing in order to be more effective in their role. Effectively receiving and giving feedback are essential in every career, but especially when seeking to lead by example.

It’s important to look at the feedback you receive as a gift by valuing the perspectives others have for how they see you showing up in the workplace. Ideally, this would come in the form of a 360-degree feedback appraisal, so you can learn how you are perceived by people up, down and across the organization. This collective perspective provides an overall picture in how you show up. It may differ from how you perceive yourself, yet this helps you gain an external perspective to increase your overall self-awareness.

When a comment is from one individual, you should see it as an opinion; when it is from two, you should treat it as a trend; and when it is from three or more people, you should view it as factual and especially important to consider.

Don’t dismiss the positive comments as these represent your strengths that helped you reach where you are today. Embrace this positive feedback and own it as part of your overall reputation and personal brand. Receiving feedback effectively means you are able to hear and accept both positive and critical information without dismissing, overreacting or becoming defensive. Developing self-awareness is based not only on how well you can accurately see yourself, but also on how aware you are of how others see you. This can come only through feedback from others. And it’s vital you are able to receive it well, determine what it means for you, and choose to act where appropriate in order to bring about any necessary changes to help you grow.

Getting feedback can be difficult in many workplaces because it may not be embedded into a performance evaluation process. Many companies that deploy annual performance appraisals find them dreaded by both supervisors and employees, which further undermines the potential for success in receiving useful feedback.

The best organizations deliver feedback as often as quarterly in order to course correct and pivot more quickly. This enables tighter communication, so employees can more immediately take corrective action and continually improve. The 360-degree feedback method can be especially helpful, but may not be used throughout your organization or used consistently. Regardless, top-performing leaders are those who regularly seek out feedback on their performance, according to Tasha Eurich in her book Insight.

“If anything, we are socially and professionally rewarded for seeking critical feedback,” says Eurich. “Leaders who do are seen as more effective, not just by their bosses, but by their peers and employees.” It’s important that you get the feedback you need in order to succeed in your role and throughout your career. Just as importantly, you need to receive it with a growth mindset so you can take appropriate action on what you get.

“If we can receive feedback with grace, reflect on it with courage, and respond to it with purpose, we are capable of unearthing unimaginable insights from the most unlikely of places,” says Eurich.

The 3R Model

She developed the 3R Model on how to best stay in control regarding surprising or difficult feedback. Using this 3R Model enables you to receive, reflect upon and respond to such feedback effectively.

  • Receive – Mine the insight potential by seeking specificity on where the particular behavior shows up and examples of when it was seen.
  • Reflect – How well do you understand the feedback? How will it affect your well-being? What affect will it have on your long-term workplace success?
  • Respond – Do you want to act on this feedback, and if so, how? Can you develop and communicate a plan for how you will go about this action?

Feedback should not be taken as judgment, but only as information that can be helpful to your growth.

“When faced with feedback in an area that plays into our self-limiting beliefs,” says Eurich, “merely taking a few minutes to remind ourselves of another important aspect of our identity than the one being threatened shores up our ‘psychological immune system.’” Using the 3R Model will help you make the most of the critical feedback you receive.

If you can be courageous enough to seek feedback, be sure you are also capable of receiving it well, reflecting on what it means, and responding in a way that helps you to grow.

Leading by Example

February 11, 2021

[This is an excerpt from my book Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace, which is currently available at Amazon and wherever you buy books.]

Isaac was a senior account executive at a commercial real estate firm and consistently recognized for his sales expertise. He regularly exceeded quotas and, as a result, was given greater responsibility to manage a team of junior salespeople.

However, in this new role Isaac was challenged to shine. When his direct reports struggled to meet their numbers, Isaac failed to provide appropriate feedback to inspire and motivate them. Isaac was also unable to hear and accept constructive feedback from his supervisor concerning how to effectively manage his team. By the end of the year, when it was clear his team was in jeopardy of meeting quota and putting Isaac’s reputation at risk, he became more aggressive and threatened his people with consequences. Isaac used fear and intimidation that backfired and resulted not only in his team missing the sales forecast, but also losing several outstanding salespeople who had been performing well in spite of Isaac’s behavior. His inability to give and receive feedback well along with struggling while under stress exposed his low level of the social competencies in emotional intelligence.

Meanwhile, on the other side of town, Mia had recently been hired to take on managing a dysfunctional group of construction workers. Her predecessor had been ineffective regulating conflict, which resulted in missed deadlines and an unmotivated workforce. The group was dominated by men, many of whom were dubious and dismissive when they heard a woman was coming on board to lead them. In her first week on the job, rather than simply accept what her boss had told her regarding why the group struggled, she inquired and listened carefully to what each of the workers had to say. Mia took the time to build rapport with them. She learned that most of the conflict was related to bullying behavior by two men in particular, who were using intimidation and sarcasm to keep the group from performing optimally. Both men had been with the company longer than anyone and were generally considered high performers that she didn’t want to lose.

Mia decided to meet with the two men and deliver her findings in a direct manner making it clear that their bullying behavior needed to stop. Both men listened patiently as she told them how their behavior was undermining the project. Before they could become defensive and deny what she was saying, Mia requested their help. She asked that they each take on a leadership role in two separate teams that would work on vital parts of the project. She told them that they would need to inspire and motivate their team members to work collaboratively in order to meet the upcoming deadline. Mia made it clear that without their full cooperation, the entire project was at stake and this would put the company’s financial position in jeopardy. The men looked at each other then back at Mia, and both agreed to her proposal.

Before long, after clear and consistent communication along with appropriate coaching, Mia found that the two men became more engaged in focusing on the people in their teams and were rising to the challenge. Their bullying behavior had ceased as they were now inspired to succeed. What Mia was able to achieve demonstrated the social competencies of emotional intelligence, including the ability to regulate conflict and influence others effectively.

Leading is not limited to those in executive level positions. Leadership can be demonstrated by anyone, no matter their position because it is more of a mindset than a designation in an organizational chart. Real leadership is earned rather than appointed. It is modeled in how well you execute your role and the behavior you demonstrate doing so. Leaders are those who inspire others to do more than they thought they were capable of doing. People follow the best leaders not because they have to, but because they want to. And the best leaders lead by example. To do this, they are able to effectively influence others, give and receive feedback, perform well under stress and manage conflict.

Why Positive Feedback?

August 6, 2020

In my work as a leadership coach I work with Millennials who often complain they don’t receive enough positive feedback from their supervisors. I also work with leaders in their 40s and 50s who claim their younger direct reports continually crave recognition for a job well done.

Is the desire for positive feedback contributing to confirmation bias, looking to confirm what they already believe: they are a good performer in the workplace? And is this perhaps a symptom or result of what social media has created? Or is it merely related to a lack of confidence that they will grow out of as they mature in their careers?

For those reluctant to provide such positive feedback, are they preventing the opportunity to bring out the best in their employees? Do they believe delivering such comments is unnecessary and maybe even destructive? Or are they holding back because they didn’t receive it earlier in their own careers?

Regular feedback is important for anyone in order to understand what they are doing well and what they are doing not so well. It is also vital to know what to continue doing, what to stop doing, and what to start doing. This is integral to one’s growth and development whatever the job, and it shouldn’t be delivered only in awkward annual performance reviews.

Leaving out regular positive feedback is just as bad as leaving out regular critical feedback.

As I wrote in a post two years ago, what provides true satisfaction in the workplace is not the salary, job title, or other external expressions of worth, but whether or not the person feels valued by their manager, their peers and by the company as a whole. Conveying this appreciation costs you and the company nothing.

So why are leaders reluctant to dish out more compliments for a job well done and for the value they see their employees delivering?

It could be many are perfectionists believing there is always room for improvement and therefore little reason to praise. Some may be more intrinsically motivated and believe others should be as well. These leaders do their job because they gain satisfaction without the need for external rewards or recognition. Salary and regular promotions should be enough.

But are they?

Research has found that people often leave a company due to a bad manager. When employees find their direct supervisor doesn’t believe in and express the value they see in them, they seek greener (not necessarily based on dollars) pastures. This is bad for organizations as it leads to lower motivation, lower productivity and higher turnover.

In order to provide more positive feedback with the motivation needed to feel valued in the workplace, leaders can modify their approach in the following ways:

Catch employees doing things right

Provide positive comments in the moment. Don’t hold back your compliments until the end of the year. Instead, find ways to encourage individuals when you see them doing something particularly well. A little goes a long way.

Normalize positive feedback

In your regular one-on-one meetings, be sure to point out where you think the individual did something particularly well or worked especially hard since the last meeting. Don’t make a big deal about it, simply make a habit of stating your recognition of the value they bring.

Celebrate incremental victories for the individual or team

Don’t wait until the end of the year to celebrate overall performance. Provide praise at milestones and recognize individual contributions publicly. This simple recognition goes a long way towards people feeling valued by you and the organization.

None of this will matter, of course, unless you are sincere in your behavior. Your intended audience will sense a lack of genuine sincerity and your efforts will be wasted. Make your appreciation behaviorally specific and make it meaningful. This positive feedback will help provide the recognition necessary to bring out the best in your employees.

Wanted: Authoritative Leaders

July 27, 2020

Authoritative leadership is especially important now because so many organizations are aimlessly adrift due to the health risks and economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic and heightened focus on racial inequality. We need leaders who understand that these are things that require inspiring everyone to collectively do their part.

A year ago I wrote a post titled “Authoritarian vs. Authoritative Leadership” and it became one of my mostly widely read blog posts. Perhaps this is a sign of the times when so many are interested to read about the rise of authoritarian leaders around the world.

I now want to expand on the authoritative leadership style as I think this is one to model in both business and politics—especially at this point in time.

Authoritative leaders, according to Daniel Goleman, are those who use a “come along with me” approach to leading others. They point a direction or describe a vision, and then provide the freedom and confidence in those who follow to determine the best means to achieve it.  Goleman says this style of leadership is especially important when a business is adrift—when organizations require the leader to set a new course and inspire people to help reach it.

The authoritative leader engages the energy of individuals to accomplish organizational goals and admit that they don’t have all the answers. They point the direction on what needs to be achieved and trusts the individuals to collectively determine the best approach for getting there. Authoritative leaders inspire enthusiasm and build the confidence of the entire team.

According to Goleman, the authoritative style of leading provides a high level of clarity, commitment and flexibility to keep people motivated and successful. Examples of some authoritative leaders include Bill Gates, John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Clarity

The authoritative leader is able to clearly articulate a vision and motivate each individual to contribute to that organizational vision. People feel inspired when they are able to see that what they do really matters, and this brings about greater productivity. This clarity of vision contributes greatly to becoming a reality.

Commitment

The commitment authoritative leaders demonstrate comes through when they are able to define the standards on how individual actions lead to success. Performance feedback can then directly point back to these previously defined standards and on whether the individual met or did not meet expectations.

Flexibility

Flexibility in how one does the work is extremely empowering. This is about allowing people to experiment, innovate and take on calculated risks. It is about allowing for occasional mistakes with optimal learning and improvement. Authoritative leaders state the goal and enable people the flexibility to best determine the means to reach that goal.

An authoritative leadership style for some may mean letting go of the “command and control” of coercive or authoritarian leadership. If the ship is literally sinking and the person in charge is best able to save it, then by all means be that coercive leader. Most of the time and especially now, coercive leadership is inappropriate.  

Instead, we need leaders who are able to articulate a compelling vision as well as embrace the collective intelligence, talents and abilities of those around them to bring it to fruition. This means the CEO is able to bring along her leadership team to execute on the strategy most effectively. It means a government leader is able to recognize that a pandemic and social unrest cannot be wished or commanded away, but requires the best science and collective intelligence to do the hard work and make the sacrifices necessary to achieve safety, stability and meaningful change.

The authoritative style may not be appropriate in all situations, but it is one that works most of the time and is perhaps necessary more now than ever.

Questions for 21st Century Leaders

July 14, 2020

To lead effectively requires many competencies. To be a great leader in the 21st century means you are also looking further out, valuing the diversity of thought, and are brave enough to let go of your tried and true assumptions.

Roselinde Torres, senior partner and managing director at Boston Consulting Group, found that performance reviews, leadership development programs, hiring practices and executive coaching just aren’t working well enough anymore. Many companies continue to fail, fall behind and are simply unable to succeed.

In her widely-watched TED Talk “What it Takes to be a Great Leader,” Torres reported her findings on what successful leaders are doing. She says leadership in the 21st century is defined and evidenced by three essential questions: 1) Where are you looking to anticipate change? 2) How diverse is your network? 3) Are you courageous enough to abandon the past?

As an executive coach focused on leadership development, I thought I’d delve into each of these questions with a take on what I’ve witnessed in my practice and some potential action steps forward.  

Where are you looking to anticipate change?

In 1995 Bill Gates anticipated the impact of the Internet to completely redirect and refocus the company’s efforts in order to keep Microsoft on track. In 2007 Reed Hastings, co-founder and CEO of Netflix, moved his company from shipping DVDs via the mail to streaming movies, TV shows and original content to now reach more than 180 million subscribers worldwide.

Did you anticipate this year’s popularity and support for the Black Lives Matter movement? How will this widespread support change how you hire and promote people of color? What other cultural or consumer trends are you noticing beyond the scope of your business that will have an impact on it? What will be the next big change that impacts your business: meaningful action on climate change, regulation to reduce income inequality, health care reform?

For you to anticipate what’s coming, you need to make a practice of looking beyond where you usually look and what your usually do. This is about adaptive leadership to anticipate what’s coming and respond with agility as the business environment changes.

How diverse is your network?

I know of several companies where diversity in boardrooms rarely extends beyond including women. The same could be said for those in the C-suite. How about your professional network? Does it include people who look, speak, act and, most importantly, think differently than you? If not, I suspect you are limiting your ability to lead effectively as your employees, vendors, customers and community represents more than those similar to you.

When I joined a professional organization a couple years ago, I was disappointed that it was dominated by middle-aged white men. My goal is to find ways to add more women and people of color so we’re adding to the conversation rather than limiting it.

Diversity in professional networks enable us to move beyond confirmation bias, which is so prevalent in our chosen news sources and social media feeds. Studies have repeatedly shown that adding diverse opinions and perspectives to the conversation leads to better decisions. By increasing the diversity in those we reach out to for advice and counsel, we will expand our understanding and challenge our assumptions. Both will serve us in leading into the future.

Are you courageous enough to abandon the past?

We are all creatures of habit, especially when these habits have served us so well in the past. It’s hard to let go of what’s worked previously because of the confidence you have in it. But if continuing to do so is no longer effective, it’s time to let go and move on to something else.

This requires curiosity and a beginner’s mind so that you can find solutions that would otherwise remain hidden. Adopt a lifelong learning perspective to read beyond the business journals and books everyone else is reading. Seek out new conversations and develop relationships with different people.

Make the time and summon the courage to challenge your thinking. Try new approaches that requires breaking out of what you have done in the past that is no longer suitable for the present. Your resistance to risk may prevent you from reaching success.

To be a successful leader in the 21st century you can no longer rely on the tried and true methods of yesterday. It’s time to shift your mindset and respond to Torres’ three questions in a way that raises your leadership competency to what is required today and in the future.

Moving from Equality to Equity

June 30, 2020

Most Americans, I suspect, believe in equal opportunity more than equal outcome. This means providing a level playing field, so everyone has the opportunity to reach their goals if they put in the necessary work. Yet without equity, we don’t have a level playing field.

Huge advantages persist in the United States for those who are white, male, heterosexual, college-educated and having been raised in a financially-secure family. I have no idea what percent of the current US population this demographic represents, but I’d be surprised if it were more than 20%. However, if I were to guess at the make-up of those in power—both in business and government—I’d guess this demographic is closer to 80%.

A diversity of opinion provides enhanced decision-making. By taking minority views into account and encouraging the silent voices in the room, we can make the best decisions. A leader can become aware of issues and concerns that upon first glance may not be noticed. Great leaders know this. They seek to be challenged rather than back away. from them

Corporations are unlikely to have a diverse make-up of executives in the C-suite unless their boards of directors include such diversity. Businesses should therefore hire and promote more women and people of color into board seats as well as executive and senior leadership roles. Their presence mean companies will be more representative of the people they serve: employees, customers, suppliers, shareholders and the surrounding community.

When companies claim they can’t find qualified applicants representing women or people of color, perhaps they are not looking in the right places. Are they recruiting from colleges and universities that primarily serve this demographic? Do they offer training and leadership development programs to all employees equally? Though their policies may claim this, how does it show up in the diversity of those being promoted?

Those in government should also represent the overall make-up of the population they serve. Yet gerrymandering, voter suppression and the Citizens United decision certainly provide representatives the opportunity to choose their voters rather than voters choosing their representatives. And while the 116th Congress is the most racially and ethnically diverse group ever, this still represents just one-in-five in the House of Representatives and Senate. And the overwhelming majority of these representatives are Democrats (90%), while just 10% are Republicans.

I’m not advocating for taking away rights of straight white males of which I count myself as a member, but I am saying there needs to be more equity in how we educate, hire, promote and lead in all areas of society. This means providing equity, so everyone has a fair shot at life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

We need to move beyond seeking equality and look for equity instead. Equity acknowledges this is not a level playing field. Equity is not antithetical to capitalism, nor to freedom. Equity is about providing fairness to all. Equity is especially important in this time of protesting systemic racial injustice because it gets closer to root of the problem. Until black lives matter, all lives can’t matter.

Equity provides support or assistance based on specific needs or abilities. It’s not entirely about race or gender as it is about fairness due to your particular situation. Obviously many programs have so far failed to provide this, but that doesn’t mean we should abandon seeking to make them successful. It wasn’t the aim of the programs that failed, but the execution of implementing many of them. This can and should be corrected.

And moving from equality to equity will bring us closer to reaching the moral standard our country should continually strive to live up to.

Empathy in Leadership

May 1, 2020

Leaders who demonstrate empathy are more effective than those who don’t. This is because empathy can help leaders raise engagement, increase loyalty, and ultimately convey their humanity, which makes them more approachable and able to be influenced.

Empathy helps convey that you are able to identify the feeling another has, touch that feeling yourself, and offer to help the other person deal with that feeling or situation. Empathy enables connection like nothing else because it provides the receiver of this empathetic response to feel truly heard.

Unlike sympathy, which is about sharing the feelings of another, empathy is about being able imagine what it might be like to have those feelings. It is about understanding and putting oneself into the other’s position. This helps people connect far more than sympathy.

In politics we’ve witnessed many examples of previous Presidents expressing empathy. For example, President Reagan capture the emotions of the country with his eulogy to the crew of the space shuttle Challenger after it exploded. President Clinton channeled the country’s grief after the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building. President G. W. Bush shed tears and hugs with families of those killed on Sept. 11, 2001. President Obama openly wept after the school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut. It’s hard to think of an example for President Trump, who I have yet to witness demonstrate empathy.

In business there is great opportunity for leaders to demonstrate empathy during this Covid-19 pandemic. It can be done by finding creative ways to serve customers more compassionately. It can be demonstrated through the shared sacrifice a company chooses in reducing the number of layoffs by cutting back salaries for senior executives and removing some benefits for every employee. It can be done in the way they conduct their business to employees, customers, shareholders and the surrounding community.  

Business leaders who demonstrate empathy:

  • Enable people to feel safe with failures as they are not simply blamed for them
  • Look to understand the root cause behind poor performance
  • Help struggling employees improve themselves
  • Enable the opportunity to influence and be influenced by others
  • Build and develop relationships with those they lead

Empathy should also be viewed as a data gathering tool to help you understand the human environment in which you operate your business. This data can then enable you to make better predictions, determine appropriate tactics, inspire loyalty and communicate clearly.

It can play a powerful role in how well you are able to influence others. This begins with warmth you project in your interactions as a way to help build rapport and trust. Empathy means you choose to actively listen, so others feel heard based on the behavior they see you demonstrate. And the compassion you convey through your empathy brings about a deep and lasting connection. Embracing and demonstrating empathy towards others greatly enhances your ability to influence them effectively. And this is absolutely necessary in order to lead others.

The best leaders are those who lead with empathy. This is needed more than ever during this pandemic and in the challenging months ahead.